By Glenda Boza Ibarra (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – Cuba has announced that it will begin lifting restrictions post-Covid-19, in three staggered phases. Tourism, the country’s main economic activity, has been significantly affected by the pandemic and the Cuban people’s main concern is that new cases will be imported, once it reopens.
According to what emerged on the Mesa Redonda TV show last Thursday, the first recovery phase involves hotels offering special holiday packages to national customers. The second phase will mean that foreign visitors are only able to access off-shore beach resorts in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Cruz and Cayo Largo del Sur.
“Upon arrival, foreign tourists will have to follow strict health protocols,” prime minister Manuel Marrero Cruz explained on Cuban TV.
“All visitors will be subject to a PCR test at border control and will have their temperature taken. If they test positive for Covid-19, they will be transferred to a hospital.”
The former minister of Tourism detailed the health measures that will determine the reopening of this sector, based on the economic importance this sector has for Cuba and the population’s concerns, at a time when the country seems to have the disease under control.
“Guests at the cays will not have access to the main island. Excursions to the city are on standby and priority will be given to nautical trips or day trips within the cays themselves.”
He also announced that rental cars won’t be an option during the first phase of recovery and, during the second phase, tourists renting cars will not be able to drive on the mainland.
Even though Cubans won’t have access to beaches on the northern and southern cays during the first and second phases, Varadero’s beach resort will be one of the main options for the domestic market.
“Varadero will first open up for Cubans and later for tourists,” the prime minister explained. “We studied the option of dividing the Varadero peninsula: one side for the international market (at the far end) and another for the domestic trade. That way, we would be able to avoid foreigners mixing with the city and locals, during this second phase. Services will resume as normal in the third phase of recovery.
Some 150 measures make up the health and hygiene regulations that have been approved to prevent Covid-19 transmission in Cuban hotels.
Health safety protocols begin with the reception of customers, who must only enter the hotel after their temperature has been taken, and they disinfect their hands, shoes, suitcases and wheels of transport vehicles.
“No hotel will be operating at 100% capacity – 60% max – to ensure physical distancing. There will be a team available made up of a doctor, nurse and an Epidemiology graduate to ensure the disease is being monitored,” said Marrero.
In a video that was recently published by the Cubanacan chain, it has been announced that rooms will be cleaned and disinfected in keeping with guidelines, doing maintenance work with housekeeping. Some sheets, pillows, carpets, dressing gowns and leaflets are being removed. Blankets and robes will be handed out upon request.
Restaurant entrances will have disinfectant readily available and the daily menu will be in clear sight. Tables will be 1.5 m away from each other, and the buffet service will have limited capacity. Room service will be available in every hotel.
During the first phase, service at bars will be banned, but there will be table service. Antibacterial gel or disinfectant will be available in front of elevator entrances, and elevators will have a 50% capacity.
Guests will be given an individual safety kit with mask, gloves, etc.
Manuel Marrero explained on Mesa Redonda that these safety protocols also establish specific regulations for tourism employees.
“All employees will be given a quick test when they enter a hotel and they must wear a mask at all times, as well as other protective gear. They will be given conditions to work seven days straight, and then they will have another 7 days to rest at home. There, they will be monitored and respect quarantine regulations.”
The prime minister also announced that air restrictions continue in the country, and commercial flights will be banned for now. Only humanitarian, cargo or medical collaboration planes will be able to land.
However, during these early phases, foreign tourists will be able to fly to international airports in Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo del Sur, on charter flights. He outlined the specific case of Santa Clara international airport, where customers staying in Cayo Santa Maria will be able to fly into.
“Abel Santamaria Airport will open, with strict safety protocols. Upon arrival in Cuba, customers will be transported by bus (with restroom facilities) to prevent them from stopping on the journey. They will be escorted by the police until they reach their hotel destination.”
In terms of baggage, the restriction of only traveling with one suitcase as well as one piece of hand luggage, remains. Once the country enters its third phase of recovery, passengers will be able to carry two suitcases.
“Cuba’s baggage control allowed 5.6 suitcases per person, on average. Many Cubans travel for commercial purposes (which is illegal), and we can’t encourage these practices again,” Marrero Cruz has said.
During this TV appearance, the minister of Economy Alejandro Gil recognized that there has been a “significant decline in tourism revenue” and it was necessary to cut exports linked to the tourism sector.
“We are facing a very complex situation (…), the drop in revenue has been quite sharp,” he admitted.
According to an assessment by economist Pedro Monreal, Cuba’s tourism sector is facing three main challenges: the drop in tourism before the pandemic, an increase in international customers during a limited demand because of the global crisis and the chance for national tourism to give the sector a boost.
Monreal is skeptical about the recovery of the European market “whose potential customers come from six of the most severely affected countries, both in terms of health and finance: Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the UK.”
“The prospects of extra-continental international travel (both in Europe and Asia) don’t seem to be promising after this summer or the rest of 2020. It is estimated that it will only get back on its feet in 2021, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.”
The economist highlights the potential of recovering the tourism sector with visitors from the Cuban community abroad, who “haven’t escaped the negative impact of the crisis on their income”, but who have a greater motivation to travel to Cuba than other foreign tourists.
“This isn’t a forecast. It’s just a hypothesis,” he summarized.
Before these measures were revealed, several hotel chains had already begun to promote Cuba as a safe tourist destination.
Even though the first phase of recovery is expected to kick into action in June, no exact date has been released as of yet.